Time well spent

So, here’s blog number two then. When I started this new journey down Blog Street a couple of weeks ago, I planned that I would maybe write one a month, time permitting. I thought I should be able squeeze something in between my normal copywriting and event work.

But in the space of less than a fortnight that spare time that I was hoping for has suddenly and unwantedly presented itself big-time. By the bucket-load.

All my events have been cancelled, many of my copywriting jobs are now on hold, and I have been unable to meet with the friends, colleagues and potential clients that I’d got penned into the diary. Oh yes… spare time is a-plenty.

Now I’m not, for one minute, going to start moaning or griping about my situation because I know I’m not alone. There are millions of self-employed people in this country in the same situation as me. And even for people who have a full-time job, the chances are they will have had hours cut, shifts cancelled or places of work put on lockdown. All we can do now – all of us – is hold our nerve, sit tight and wait for this thing to pass.

It’s going to be a tough ride, but it won’t all be doom and gloom. From a personal viewpoint, I still have some, limited copywriting in the diary. I have a road test report to write. The garden is getting a spring make-over and the shed has been painted. My paperwork and filing is up to date. I’m working on improving my website. I have registered for the Royal Voluntary Service to help the NHS through these difficult days, and I’m doing the shopping for an 82-year-old man who is worried about leaving his house.

From a broader standpoint, I’m cheered by what I am seeing and hearing. Walking around a much-quieter Co-op collecting my octogenarian friend’s ready meals, oranges and ice cream, I notice all around me other people doing the same. You can see from their shopping baskets that not everything they have there is for them. They are helping others. People nod and smile as they pass, two metres apart. Raising their eyebrows to the sky they ask: “How are you?” and add: “Strange old time isn’t it?”

They’re pleased to see others walking on a near-deserted High Street. They queue politely, waiting to be let in to the chemist’s, which only allows two in at a time. Walkers wave at cyclists, cyclists wave at motorists. Delivery drivers put a parcel on your doorstep, ring your bell and stand back and wait until you’ve answered to make sure you’ve got it.

Restaurants are cooking up spare food that would otherwise go off, and sending it to hospitals or care homes. Corporations are offering to help people who are worried about bills and mortgages. People are being nice to each other. They’re ringing the lonely and helping the old. They are embracing this temporary new way of life and want to help. We’re all pulling together. It’s so heartening. This must be what it was like during the War, with everyone fighting a crisis together and, in many ways, enjoying doing it.

There’s no such thing as great people – just ordinary people doing great things. And I have seen so many great things recently that I’m looking forward even more to the future. To the time when this is all over and people will remember how nice it was when we were all helping each other.

So I’m not worried about my career at the moment. I’m worried about my friends’ and family’s wellbeing. I’m not concerned about less money. I’m concerned about seeing less of my grandchildren during lockdown.

I don’t care about not finding any loo rolls in the shops. I do care about beating this horrible virus, and doing my part to achieve that.

Suddenly things have taken on a different importance. Things will change, I’m sure of it. It’s not going to be about who’s the best or the most successful any more. It’s going to be about appreciating the good things we already have.

Because people are learning that even though success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.


in Blog | 742 Words

How did it come to this?

Back in 2007 a well-known motoring journalist from a top-selling magazine emailed me to say: “M’dear chap, you do seem to be able to flit between journalism and public relations with quite some aplomb. How do you do it?”

I had just been appointed PR Manager of Fiat UK in time for the launch of the popular 500 city car, having previously headed up the Jeep PR department – with two separate stints in between as a journalist on a big UK car magazine and a national newspaper – so, as well as a kind and generous observation, it was possibly a fair point.

To be fair, I’ve been asking myself the same question for pretty much my entire career. And I guess it all comes down to giving journalists what they want. When you’re a reporter or feature writer, you must give your editor what he or she wants, and on time too. When you’re a PR executive, you’re still giving editors what they want – or at least what their writers want. Get all that right and you’re a long way down the road to a successful career.

This is my first blog on johnstonmedia.com so let me introduce myself if we haven’t met. I’m Tom Johnston, a freelance writer, editor and event manager. I write my own stuff, check and amend other peoples’, offer thoughts and guidance on PR campaigns and help out at shows and exhibitions. It’s an enjoyable occupation – largely brought about by redundancy – and, having built up my experience in this world we call media (meeja darling, meeja…), I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Over the last 30 years or so I’ve been called a journalist, a reporter, sub-editor, desk editor, copywriter, public relations manager… you name it – I’ve been called it (and it hasn’t always been complimentary). I’m even trying to get novelist and playwright tacked on in there somewhere, if I can just get a literary agent to take me and my stories seriously.

I started my career as a young reporter on the Southend Evening Echo and, after five years, made the big move to London to become the first ever reporter of a (then) new car magazine called Auto Express. I became News Editor, Assistant Editor and even Associate Editor, and discovered that having a business card like that from a big, nationwide title made me almost respectable. It certainly gave me access to some of the world’s newest and most exciting cars, allowed me an insight behind the scenes at famous car factories and headquarters, and offered me the opportunity to drive on hundreds of beautiful roads, 4×4 tracks, rally stages and motor racing circuits around the globe.

A job switch to the Chrysler Corporation, the US brand responsible for Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and, following a merger, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Abarth, similarly allowed me to take my passport and fly off into the sunset hosting groups of car, lifestyle and travel journalists on international press events. The corporate life was good. It’s not unlike being a journalist in many respects: there are still deadlines to make, stories to write and interviews to organise (usually for other people though, not yourself), and aside from the growing mass of red tape and form signing you get in a corporation, being the UK’s PR Manager of Jeep, for example, was an interesting and rewarding job.

So when it all came to an end last year and the axe fell (it had been hovering for a while), I decided I would do everything I could to stay as part of the media circus. Not solely as a journalist and not solely as a PR man. But as a freelance mixture of the two.

Was it a good decision? I think so. I’ll never be complacent because you don’t know what’s around the corner, but I am keeping busy, earning a living and enjoying myself. I was certainly hoping that, as a self-employed little person in a big, unforgiving wide world, I could continue to “flit between journalism and public relations” as my writer friend told me I was doing all those years earlier.

Only time will tell, but I plan to be here for the long run so, please, come back and visit me on these web pages from time to time. And if I can help you with some copy, a bit of editing or as a spare pair of hands at an event, you know where to find me. I’ll be flitting about somewhere…

in Blog | 771 Words